Last night, I got a chance to hang out with Christina Hollenback, an amazingly talented community organizer in New York. A year ago she left her job in DC as the director of the Generational Alliance and moved to Harlem where she’s focused on organizing at the hyper-local, block level. For example, she’s currently focused on helping musicians organize CSA type projects that allow the neighborhood to support the artists in their area by paying in advance for musical performances and recordings.
My gut tells me that the work she’s doing in Harlem is fantastically important and more impactful than all of her electoral and issue organizing, the many meetings she attended in DC, and the events she planned for Congressman and Senators. By creating ways for community members to come together and support each other, she’s building the social fabric upon which people fall back when hard times hit. She’s also building the kinds of relationships between people who have different socio-economic and political backgrounds that allow us to better understand each other. I would hypothesize that her work is the what we need if we want to see a depolarized government. But I have no way to prove that.
What community metrics are correlated with a healthy government? Does the strength of a community’s social fabric, its interconnectedness, impact the effectiveness of the decision making bodies that set policy for that community?
The crisis response ecosystem looks to resilience as a measurement of whether a community can bounce back from a disaster. Practitioners and researchers in this field recognize that disaster resilient communities use personal and community strengths to recover from calamity and have strong social networks. They spend a lot of time looking at the connection between the strength of the social fabric and better outcomes for individuals post-disaster. One of the core elements of social capital - trust- is seen as vital to preparedness efforts.
I think in terms of data— and the different kinds and qualities of connections between residents is the base layer of all civic innovation. These shifting currents of trust influence and underpin all the public and charitable work in a place flowing from the doorstep all the way up to the Federal government. This particular dataset is particularly hard to collect and validate. After spending time with Christina, I’m even more sure that the tools we build to make collaborative decisions or change the way we govern ourselves need to be designed with a firm understanding and data-driven approach to the kind of offline community strength Christina builds. We need to pay attention to civic resilience and start to effectively measure what it takes to increase it.